US President Barack Obama said US intelligence agencies missed “red flags” that would have put a Nigerian man on a no-fly list before Christmas Day, when he is accused of trying to blow up an airliner.
The government failed to heed warnings that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab could pose a terrorist threat even after his father came to US authorities with his concerns, the president said yesterday.
“The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America,” Obama said at a US military base near the home in Hawaii where he is vacationing with his family.
Obama said he expects preliminary results tomorrow from investigations he ordered into the “systemic failure” in aviation security and terrorist intelligence gathering. Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, is charged with smuggling explosives onto a Northwest Airlines jet and trying to blow up the plane as it prepared to land in Detroit. The full investigation could take weeks.
Obama decided to speak yesterday after an intelligence briefing where he was told the government had information on terrorist planning and potential attacks that if taken together might have pointed to the incident last Friday, an official said on condition of anonymity.
The CIA learned about Abdulmutallab last month, when his father went to the US embassy in Nigeria to seek help in finding him, agency spokesman George Little said in an e-mail. The agency worked to ensure he was in the government terrorist database “including mention of his possible extremist connections in Yemen,” Little said.
Without mentioning the CIA, Obama said: “Weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”
The New York Times quoted two unidentified officials as saying the US had information from Yemen that leaders of an al-Qaeda branch were talking about a Nigerian being prepared for an attack.
“It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands said it would start using full-body scanners in the wake of the failed attack. The preparation of the attempt was “fairly professional,” while the execution was “amateurish,” Dutch Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst wrote in a letter to parliament yesterday, citing a government investigation.
“It will take three weeks to modify the scanners to ensure passengers’ privacy,” ter Horst said at a press conference in The Hague.
The Netherlands plans to use millimeter-wave body scans, which scan the outline of a person’s body, on all flights to the US to reduce terrorist threats, Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported, citing an interview with Justice.
Separately, US and Yemeni officials were looking at fresh targets for a possible retaliation strike in Yemen, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing two unidentified US officials.
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